Sara in Colonial Virginia

A first-year student majoring in English and public relations, Sara is a Dedman Scholar and member of the University Honors Program. During spring 2014, she is enrolled in the Honors history class “The Founding Fathers and Slavery.” The class traveled to Virginia during spring break, with visits to Alexandria, Colonial Williamsburg, Washington, Charlottesville and the plantations of George Washington (Mount Vernon), Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), and James Madison (Montpelier).

Many of the photos on this blog were taken by Lucy, a first-year Dedman Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology.

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Our campus tour at UVA

Our final hours in Williamsburg flew by in a flurry of packing our scattered belongings and rushing to the gift shop for last-minute souvenirs. At 9:30, we shoved our suitcases in the back seat of the van and clambered into our customary seats for a quick two-hour drive to Charlottesville. When we arrived at the hotel, we had just enough time to stash our belongings in Dr. Doyle’s hotel room before we walked over to the University of Virginia campus.

I wasn’t sure what it would be like, visiting another college campus as a tour group. Not only did it feel like I was cheating on SMU, but I also felt like a high school student again. But UVA was Jefferson’s brainchild — he put a lot of work into the school, and I definitely understood the historical significance. So, after a delicious burger for lunch, my classmates and I trooped out to the campus.

The moment I walked up, I understood why Jefferson loved the school so much. Even on a drizzly, cold winter day, the school’s red brick and enormous white columns stood regally over every surrounding building. Ms. Spaniolo led us to the Lawn, which is their equivilant of our Boulevard, and told us a little bit about the school while we took pictures.

At the University of Virginia

At the University of Virginia

“Jefferson’s school was built by slaves, naturally. The labor that the enslaved people put into the buildings would lead to the creation of a birthplace for knowledge. At the head of the lawn would be a library, rather than the customary church, and along the edges would be a mixture of Pavilions, impressive houses for the professors, and exclusive dorm rooms with fireplaces. Even today, the most prestigious students live in those dorms and interact with their professors in the Pavilions.”

We were suitably impressed. It was obvious that UVA had a lot of pride in their Lawn, Library, and Living Areas — the students even received their own firewood! Ms. Spaniolo and Dr. Doyle also explained how, when the school was first opened, some faculty members would bring their slaves, who lived in a hidden, back area. I nodded — of course they would hide the slaves. When everyone had taken their fill of pictures, we moved inside the main Library. It was no longer a library, but a series of exhibits, explaining the history of UVA from a variety of vantage points: political, educational, architectural, and much more. There was even an exhibit that went through the books of different decades!

We had a little bit of time to roam the campus before making our way back to the hotel, where we would be discussing a book we had read while on the trip. The discussion was intellectual, but informal. In other words, we commandeered an enormous table in the hotel lobby and had a wonderful, hour-long discussion about James Madison and slavery. Our class labeled him as the workhorse who made things happen as the Founders tried to create a new government. He paid attention to details, and, with his reserved demeanor, pushed through legislation.

But when it came to slavery, we were stumped. The author was extremely wishy-washy, and we couldn’t quite tell what his opinion was. We did decide that Madison seemed similar to Jefferson — he preferred the idea of colonization in Africa for free blacks, and he never freed his slaves in his will. However, the author did mention that Madison wasn’t known for being particularly brutal to his slaves. So that was an upside to things!

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